Clause 10 - Meaning of “relevant animal”

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 5th July 2022.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:15 pm, 5th July 2022

I beg to move amendment 33, in clause 10, page 7, line 12, leave out—

“means an animal which is a vertebrate” and insert—

“has the meaning given by section 5 of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022”.

This amendment would make the definition of animal from the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 the relevant definition, rather than that from the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 34, in clause 10, page 7, line 13, leave out subsections (2), (3) and (4).

This amendment, which is consequential on Amendment 33, would remove the provision to extend the definition of “animal” to include (further) invertebrates, which would instead be provided by section 5 of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The amendments in this group are relatively straightforward, the Committee will be glad to hear. We are interested in looking at the relationship between the Bill and the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, which some of us were involved in, discussing it in this very room only a few months ago. To our joint delight, it received Royal Assent in April.

The Act defines “animal” as

“any vertebrate other than homo sapiens…any cephalopod mollusc, and…any decapod crustacean”.

Members may remember the debate about the definition, which was based on a Government amendment, if I recall, after a report commissioned by them to review the scientific evidence for the sentience of cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans. The London School of Economics published that review in November last year, after which the Government made their amendment to the animal sentience Bill to reflect the most up-to-date understanding. Despite that, however, clause 10 of this Bill defines animals only as vertebrates.

There are all kinds of exciting jokes that one can make about vertebrates and all the rest of it, but I shall resist that today. We also note that the clause does not exclude homo sapiens explicitly. Basically, our issue is about trying to align the definitions with the most recent piece of legislation to have gone through the House.

The clause also makes provision for the Bill’s definition to be extended to include invertebrates if the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is extended to include them. It therefore seems to pose rather a strange system involving two different definitions of “animal” in law: one from the 2006 legislation and the other from the very recent legislation. We still seem to be waiting to get our definitions in line.

As an aside, given that the Government’s aim of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act was to recognise the sentience of animals in law, we are slightly surprised that the Animal Welfare Act has not been extended to reflect the Government’s latest stance. Regardless of that, it seems that the Bill should use the most up to date definition, that is why we have tabled amendment 33, and we think that amendment 34 is consequential on that, to replace the definition of animal in the Bill to the one from the 2022 Act. It is possible that it was mistake—that happens—or an accidental oversight, which we think could be rectified if the Government were to accept the amendment. If not, it would be useful to hear the Government’s explanation, and I invite the Minister to give it.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman proposes that we change the substance of the definition of relevant animal from that in 2006 Act to the more recent definition in the 2022 Act. Although we do not feel that the amendment is necessary, I am really grateful for the opportunity to put down on record our reasons for that.

Clause 10 defines relevant animal as a vertebrate for the purpose of welfare protection measures in clauses 11 to 15. That is line with the definition of animal in the 2006 Act—the core legislation that establishes the practical rules for individuals and businesses that handle, keep and care for animals in this country. For that reason, it is the right definition to apply.

It is worth noting that the definition of animal in the 2022 Act sets out what type of animals the animal sentience committee can consider when carrying out its work, but it does automatically not extend the definition of animal in the 2006 Act. We totally accept that it will be more than likely appropriate to broaden that definition so it is important to note that in clause 10 we allow a provision for regulations to be made to extend the definition of relevant animal, if the definition of animal in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is extended to include invertebrates of any description. Any amending regulations that extend that definition would be subject to the affirmative procedure in the House, and therefore subject to debate and approval by both Houses before being made.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government, like the Opposition, were very pleased that the sentience Bill received Royal Assent, but the next step is to carefully consider the implications of extending the 2006 Act to include cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans because that will include implications for how they are caught and handled, treated and transported. The Government are working constructively with industry and stakeholders on this issue; I assure the hon. Gentleman of that.

I understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman but the appropriate definition of animal is that which sits in the 2006 Act, although I agree that the extension of that definition is in process. It is not correct, however, to say that the definition in the 2022 Act would sit appropriately in this legislation for the reasons I have cited.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful for the explanation, although I am not entirely sure that I am convinced by it. It seems to me to be a slightly curious way of proceeding. At the end of it, I am not entirely sure whether it means that cephalopods and decapods are protected under the Bill or not—possibly not, as it stands. I understand why the new regulations have practical implications, particularly for the fishing sector, and why they need to be thought through carefully. I can see why there might be complications, although that is more to do with the animal sentience Act than it is to do with the Bill.

We will come back in a moment to the question of the relationship between the animal sentience Act and the Bill. It is an interesting one, because it goes to the heart of the concern that we on the Labour Benches have: that the various structures that are in place to make decisions, give expert advice, and so on may no longer be quite right. During the evidence session, we heard the suggestion that there may well be people within Departments who are already thinking along those lines and looking at ways in which those structures may be updated. That, of course, creates some difficulties for us, because we are looking at the legislation as it stands today. I do not want to sound like a broken record, but that is the problem with trying to second-guess the thinking of the Government when they are so vague on some of these animal welfare issues.

There is considerable interest in the whole question about cephalopods and decapods, and we think it would be more consistent to have a unified approach. On that basis, I am afraid we will test the opinion of the Committee by pressing amendment 33 to a vote, although we will not feel the need to move amendment 34.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 4 Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill — Clause 10 - Meaning of “relevant animal”

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As discussed, clause 10 defines a relevant animal as a vertebrate for the purposes of the welfare protection measures in clauses 11 to 15. That is in line with the definition of an animal in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which is the core legislation that establishes the practical rules for individuals and businesses that keep, handle, or care for animals in this country. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will be brief, given that we have just discussed the amendments. I stand by the comments we have already made, but I am grateful that regulations made under subsection (2) of the clause will be subject to the affirmative procedure. We will doubtless be back here on another day, discussing this issue again.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.